The most common demands for trade unions are for higher wages and better working conditions. However, pensions have become an increasingly important issue that many public-sector workers in particular have raised concerns over. While actions by trade unions have been less frequent and public in recent months, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has voted to strike.
The labour market works like any other market – there is a demand for and supply of labour. The intersection of the demand and supply of labour give the equilibrium wage rate and equilibrium number of workers. Trade unions may aim to push up the wage rate above this equilibrium and the impact on the number of workers employed will depend on the type of labour market. If we have a competitive labour market, then the increase in wage will create an excess supply of labour: that is, unemployment. This is often a choice a trade union has to make. However, if the market is a monopsony, then it is possible for a trade union to force up wages and yet there may not be any fall in the number of workers employed.
Pay is just one of the issues being raised by the PCS. Public-sector pay was frozen for two years for those earning above £21,000. According to the Cabinet Office, this was necessary to ‘protect jobs in the public sector and support high quality public services.’ A 5% pay rise has been requested to counter an alleged 7% fall in earnings since 2008. 61% of those who voted in the ballot were in favour of strike action. Other concerns include job losses and pensions.
One concern of the PCS will be the low turn-out. Only 28% of the union’s members voted in this ballot and this is likely to weaken the union’s bargaining position. The government has monopsony power in employing civil servants and this is one of the reasons why a powerful trade union is likely to emerge: it acts to reduce the power of the monopsonist employer. Negotiations will typically take place between the employer and the trade union and with such a low turn-out, the power is certainly with the government. However, with the threat of strike action to occur around the time of the Budget, this does present something of a concern for the government, especially with growth remaining weak and the loss of the AAA rating.
Two separate pay offers have been made to 1.6 million public-sector workers, but Unison has suggested that members of PCS should reject them. If headway is not made in negotiations between PCS and the government, then strike action could be just around the corner. The following articles consider this looming industrial action.
- UK public workers’ union may strike after vote
- PCS Union votes for strike action after national ballot
- Union ballots over Budget strike action
- Civil servants vote in favour of strike
- Budget day threatened by civil service strike
- PCS strike vote: Results of national ballot due
- Department of Education workers vote in favour of strike action over cuts and job losses
Bloomberg, Gonzalo Vina (4/3/13)
BBC News (4/3/13)
The Guardian (4/3/13)
The Telegraph, Victoria Ward (4/3/13)
BBC News, John Moylan (4/3/13)
Independent, Richard Garner (18/2/13)
- Use a diagram to illustrate a competitive market for labour and show how a trade union will aim to push up the wage rate. Show why a trade-off exists between the higher wage and the number of workers employed.
- Illustrate a diagram showing a monopsony and explain why the MC curve exceeds the AC curve. Why is it possible for a trade union to force up wages without creating a decline in the equilibrium number of workers employed?
- What other actions, besides striking, are available for trade union members? What are the costs and benefits of each relative to striking?
- Which factors, besides a low turn-out in the ballot, will reduce the trade union’s negotiating power?
- Public-sector pay was frozen for two years. If the government accepted the trade union’s pay demands, what would be the impact on the budget deficit? Could the higher pay help boost economic growth by creating a multiplier effect?